Looking For Positives In A Pandemic
Our editor reflects on the past and searches for perspective as
we all stare down the barrel of a troublesome week.
Photo by Andrew Seaman.
What is an appropriate beer for a pandemic? That’s the question I found myself asking on Friday afternoon as I stood in the beer aisle of my local liquor store. Stopping in was a snap decision between runs to the bank and to get a haircut.
I wanted to see what people were stocking up on as they prepared to withdraw from life for a bit. The results were what you would expect. 30-packs of macro lager, six packs of Irish stout (St. Patrick’s Day is on Tuesday, after all), and four packs of local IPA pint cans.
It seems almost quaint that just two weeks ago the focus was on hard seltzer making its big push into the beer space, threatening brewers. Now the focus is on the COVID-19 pandemic and the news is almost impossible to keep up with.
For now, social distancing is the new normal and that means tough times are ahead for breweries that rely on people visiting their taprooms. While for the breweries that distribute or are in grocery chains, there might be a sales spike as people stock up for hunkering down. But the long term impacts of this virus are still unknown here in the United States and across the world.
In planning this weekend’s newsletter, I struggled with what to focus on. We know that the Craft Brewers Conference and World Beer Cup won’t happen next week. Smaller conferences like the New York State Brewers Guild have also been called off. Cigar City Brewing called off its Hunahpu Day fest with just 24-hours to spare, and Firestone Walker Brewing canceled it’s annual invitational, scheduled for June, months in advance.
Larger breweries with the financial means to weather the pandemic, like Boston Beer, Dogfish Head, and Guinness, all closed their doors this weekend for at least a week. By the time this all ends, or we settle into a new normal, some breweries that close for a week or two will turn into permanent closures. The owner of Trinity Brewhouse in Providence, Rhode Island, blamed the outbreak (and nearby sporting event cancelations) for forcing him to lay off about 20 employees last Thursday.
And so it begins. It’s not hyperbole to say that it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.
The service industry is a tough one to survive in when the economy falters. We know that many breweries are living week to week, and their employees paycheck to paycheck. With economists predicting that the country is heading into a recession, a large chunk of breweries are about to face a real test.
The craft beer industry saw a boom following the 2008 recession, and a lot of those breweries have only known good and profitable times. That’s about to change and it’s not unreasonable to think that many folks are going to have a hard time paying for staff, ingredients, and infrastructure.
Where do we look for hope? I found it in the beer aisle of that liquor store in the form of a six-pack, the Sierra Nevada 40th anniversary IPA, released a few weeks ago. It’s a pine and citrus heavy ale reminiscent of the centennial-forward beers that built the microbrewing industry just a few decades ago.
Ensconced in the store’s atmosphere of quiet panic, what struck me was the final line of the beer’s label copy: “Here’s to following your passion, and to the next 40 years.”
We are in a different place than we were 40 days ago. And 40 days from now we’ll likely face a different landscape as well. But when we pull back and look at the larger picture, we see that changes come and go, and that life goes on.
Forty years ago, it was tough to imagine a country with 80 breweries, let alone 8,000. Yet here we are, with a bright future to look forward to.
For now, our worry is good. Worry means that we are paying attention. But we cannot be crippled by fear.
You are likely worried about your business. We are too. Andy Crouch and I launched this newsletter just a few months ago and it survives thanks to your support. We’re committed to our future, and to yours.
No matter what happens next, we’re going to be here, covering the industry and telling your stories. We’ll get advice from the experts, track the fallout, and search for novel approaches to a complex situation. The beer industry is unique and deserves unique coverage, which we’re here to provide.
It’s time to be forward thinking. Just please remember to wash your hands.